While a structure probably existed on the site since Anglo-Saxon times, the earliest part of the present building is the Tower (1280 AD) with its profusely decorated spire (1315-25 AD).
The Adam de Brome Chapel
The Adam de Brome Chapel, abutting the west side of the tower, was added in 1328 by the then Rector, Adam de Brome, who also established in 1324 the 'house of the Blessed Virgin Mary', a new college later to be known as Oriel College.
The chapel is furnished as a courtroom where the Chancellor of the University had surprisingly wide jurisdiction: he fixed rents, fined sellers of bad meat, and even sent a scolding woman to prison.
The Chancel was rebuilt in 1453 and contains stalls which are a fine example of late perpendicular woodwork. It is thought that the remains of Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth's favourite, were buried here in 1560.
The altar picture is 'Virgin & Child of the Column'' by Simon Vouet (1590-1649).
The rebuilding of the nave in the perpendicular style was completed by 1510. The organ screen, of Painswick stone is part of the refitting of 1827 and the nave altar furnishings were introduced in the 1970s as the emphasis of worship moved from matins and evensong to the Eucharist.
The six stone carvings on the wall of the South Aisle are "Meditations on the Precious Blood". They were created by a local artist, Bernard Johnson, and are based on drawings by Eric Gill.
One enters from the High Street through the 'barley sugar' columns of the 'Virgin Porch', designed by Nicholas Stone in 1637 and partly paid for by Archbishop Laud's chaplain Dr Morgan Owen.
The placing of a statue of the Virgin and Child above the porch was one of the charges brought against Laud by his Puritan opponents at his trial in 1641. The bullet holes in the statue were made by Cromwellian troopers.
The Stained Glass
Apart from a few medieval fragments in the east window, St Mary's glass is of the 19th century. Most notable is the lovely Pugin window of 1843 depicting the life of St Thomas, situated at the east end of the south aisle.
The great west window of 1891, designed by Charles Eamer Kempe, depicts the tree of Jesse with angels, prophets, and patriarchs.
The Old Library
Constructed in 1320, The Old Library is the first university (as opposed to college) building in Oxford and therefore uniquely important; this is where the nascent University began.
By the early thirteenth century, Oxford was firmly established as an academic centre, drawing students from across Europe, undergraduates and masters, such as the Clerk of Oxenford in the Canterbury Tales, living in houses and halls. The growing University had no buildings of its own, so it adopted St Mary’s as its administrative centre and built a two story building, east of the tower, facing onto what is now Radcliffe Square. The upper room became the first University library, which contained a small number of books chained to desks. More recently, under the chairmanship of Canon Milford, Oxfam was founded in 1942, initially to relieve the plight of Greek refugees.
Today the room can accommodate sixty people for meeting and conferences in the very heart of the University. Catering is on hand from the immensely popular Vaults and Garden Coffee Shop.
In 1947 a disastrous fire destroyed the original 17th-century 'Father' Smith organ. Its replacement, by J W Walker, had become unplayable by 1981. The present organ, the third, was built in 1987 by Metzler Orgelbau of Zurich with the intention of recapturing the spirit of the original 'Father' Smith. It is undoubtedly one of the finest instruments of its kind, and incorporates the few of Smith's decorative pipeshades which survived the fire.